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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Excited delirium, not taser, behind death of N.S. man: medical examiner

September 17, 2008
The Canadian Press

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's medical examiner has found that the death of a man who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and collapsed 30 hours after he was Tasered by police was not caused by the powerful stun gun.

Justice Minister Cecil Clarke released the long-awaited findings Wednesday, 10 months after the 45-year-old musician was arrested at his Dartmouth, N.S., apartment over a domestic dispute and later died in a police cell.

Clarke also said he would launch a fatality inquiry into the case to determine what happened to Hyde when he was taken into custody and if the man with a known history of mental illness should have instead been taken to a psychiatric facility.

"That will be a component of the inquiry because it's specific to the process of a person with a mental illness and the appropriateness of where they were and when," Clarke told reporters.

"That's why we need to have that independent assessment."

Medical examiner Dr. Matthew Bowes concluded that Hyde died of excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia. He said Hyde's coronary artery disease, obesity and the restraint used by police during a struggle were all factors in his death.

A recent independent report commissioned by the RCMP slammed the use of the term "excited delirium," which is used by police officers to describe combative, resistant suspects.

The report, ordered after a Polish immigrant died following multiple Taserings by Mounties at Vancouver International Airport last October, said the condition is not a recognized medical diagnosis and is used as an excuse to justify firing the 50,000-volt charge.

Some 20 people in Canada have died after they were Tasered.

Stephen Ayer of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia also criticized the finding, saying excited delirium is not a legitimate medical condition.

He said it should be referred to as acute agitation, a condition he says can be fatal if someone is not properly restrained.

"I'm finding it very surprising and extremely concerning that he would rule the death to excited delirium," he said. "It is well known that if you restrain an individual who is acutely agitated, that person can die.

"So how can he rule this as being accidental?"

Clarke said he recognized the controversy around the diagnosis, but added that the examiner's report was peer-reviewed and that he would monitor opinion from the medical community on the issue.

The province has held three separate investigations into the Hyde case to examine police conduct and the use of Tasers.

They found police acted appropriately, but Clarke later modified the rules for Taser use by police. He said the changes would restrict when officers deploy the guns and require a more rigorous explanation as to why they used one.

NDP justice critic Bill Estabrooks said the inquiry only prolongs a process that should have produced answers long ago on what happened to Hyde and why he ended up dying in a police cell.

"We have another layer of bureaucracy, we have another example of delay," he said. "We're not getting many answers today. Now we're going to have to wait even longer."

Hyde had been arrested at his home on Nov. 22 for spousal abuse and taken to police headquarters, where he was shot with a Taser more than once. He later died after struggling with guards in the Dartmouth jail.

In a government news release, excited delirium is described as a disorder characterized by extreme agitation, violent and bizarre behaviour, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and superhuman strength. It says not all of these characterizations are always present in someone with the disorder.

The fatality inquiry in Nova Scotia will be conducted by a judge, who will have the authority to hold public hearings and hear witnesses.

The independent RCMP report also suggested more attention be paid to factors that may affect risk of harm, including the subject's body weight, pregnancy, medical devices such as pacemakers, psychosis, ingestion of drugs and prolonged acute stress and exhaustion.

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